Conventional wisdom says the party that holds the White House is fated to suffer midterm losses. It’s tough to come out ahead when the election is framed as a referendum on the sitting president, in a political system that guarantees no president can get his agenda through Congress unscathed.
With Democratic President Joe Biden’s approvals in the 30s and Republicans ahead on generic congressional ballot polling, it might’ve seemed that Republicans were headed toward another 2010-style blowout win. Yet if you were paying attention, and I mean really paying attention, it was fated to be more complicated than that.
How can you have a referendum on a sitting president, when the old one won’t go away? No one motivates the progressive base like Donald Trump. (All the crime-ing is just a bonus.)
But more importantly, we knew the Supreme Court was slated to axe Roe v. Wade. Had Chief Justice John Roberts had his way and merely half-killed it, perhaps things might still be looking up for Republicans. But the High Court’s conservative wing went full reactionary with Dobbs, and the results was a devastating loss of rights.
The party in the White House also does poorly in the midterms because its supporters are either deactivated (“We won! Wake me up in four years...”) or frustrated and demotivated by the lack of legislative progress. Meanwhile, the opposition party is fired up—there’s little more motivating than being disenfranchised.
Republicans still feel that way, for sure, but given the Supreme Court’s overreach, so do Democrats. No one wants to lose their rights, and the conservative Supreme Court has asserted itself as the highest authority in the land. Democrats may have the White House, but we are functionally in the minority.
As a result of Dobbs, the entire election climate has shifted. Here are the amazing numbers:
In 2021 elections, Republicans outperformed their 2020 numbers by an average of six points. Remember how we lost in Virginia, and almost lost in New Jersey. Things looked rough, for sure.
Things got even worse in early 2022, when Republicans were overperforming their 2020 margins by nine points. Those “cisgendered male pundits and operatives” had some supporting evidence that a Red Wave was in the cards, even if they couldn’t fathom how Trump and abortion would impact the election.
After the Dobbs decision was initially leaked, there were 11 special elections leading up to last night, and Republican advantages suddenly evaporate. Suddenly, practically overnight, Democrats were outperforming their 2020 margins by three points—a massive 12-point shift.
And since the Dobbs decision was officially released?
As I put this story to bed late Tuesday night, the margin in NY-19 has stretched to D+3.8. Average it all out, and Democrats are now outperforming Biden’s 2020 margins by an amazing average of 5.8 points since Dobbs. Three weeks ago I wrote here about the effect abortion was having on campaigns, and if anything, the effect is accelerating.
Writing about the Minnesota special election, David Nir said, “it's [...] hard to square this result with a political environment that's as harsh for Democrats as typical midterm patterns—buffeted by high inflation and low presidential approval ratings—would suggest.” Still, David was cautious, and asked us to wait for the NY-19 special election to get a better read on the climate:
The most telling of these will be the race for New York's 19th District, where Democrat Pat Ryan has put abortion front and center and called his race a "referendum" on the issue. The DCCC just got involved in the contest, jointly airing a new ad with Ryan to attack his GOP opponent, saying Marc Molinaro "oppose[s] a woman's right to choose" and warning that Republicans in Congress "will vote for a nationwide abortion ban."
So far, Republicans have put far more muscle into the effort, though, with about $715,000 in outside spending, most of that from the NRCC. Democrats have yet to engage similarly (coordinated expenditures like the DCCC's are limited to just $55,000). But unlike the 1st Districts in Nebraska and Minnesota, New York's 19th is a Democratic-held seat that narrowly voted for Biden by half a point. If Democrats can move the needle here the way they have elsewhere, they'd be able to hang on to this seat and deny Republicans a pickup opportunity. And if nothing else, we should learn a great deal more about what Dobbs might mean for November.
The Conventional Wisdom was that Republican Marcus Molinaro would win this, perhaps easily. While this was a Democratic-held seat, it was only a 50-48 Biden seat—the kind of terrain Republicans need to take if they want to retake the House. If this was a typical midterm climate, it wouldn’t be close. A DCCC poll just last week had the Republican leading by three, 46-43. Democratic pollster Data for Progress (foolishly?) released a poll Tuesday morning giving Molinaro an eight-point lead, 53-45.
None of that seemed surprising. Molinaro wasn’t some random Q-loving nut. He was quite literally the best Republican House recruit in the entire country. He ran for governor in 2018. And while Andrew Cuomo stomped him statewide, 60-36, Molinaro actually won this district. It was supposed to be his people, and especially so in this “red wave environment.” Instead, the Democratic victory gave them the biggest jolt of good news the entire cycle.
Political observers and analysts are all taking note. This tweet came earlier in the evening, but the expected margin is notable:
Plus-three was the margin of that DCCC poll, so maybe that’s where his baseline came from. But whatever the details, the sentiment was widespread. Here’s a prominent partisan conservative hack:
And another Republican:
Amy Walter is editor in chief of the respected Cook Political Report:
Here’s some nice math:
(Remember, Democrats need 217 for the majority.)
Meanwhile, there are voter reinforcements headed our way. In all the battlegrounds, voter registration numbers are just jaw-dropping. Like Pennsylvania:
I’m swooning over those under-25 numbers! How about Ohio?
Just go down Tom Bonier’s timeline. It’s like that in state after state after competitive battleground state.
And one final chuckle to close this out:
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